Getting around Central America by bus and plane

Bus – plane transport central america

Traveling throughout Central America by bus or plane is generally surprisingly easy. Many countries have an impressively well developed transport infrastructure. With a few exceptions, these aren’t the days of chicken buses anymore. While Belize was the worst in terms of infrastructure on almost every level, countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica (to a lesser extent) (at the time of writing this these are the only countries I’ve managed to visit) had good bus services. Not only are most bus lines well run, but they are generally comfortable, safe and more or less on time. The bus stations themselves vary from city to city but most were well setup, well located and easy to navigate, especially in Mexico. There are numerous companies and levels of comfort and price within each country. For example in Mexico, ADO was generally the most expensive and most luxurious, but other companies like Mayab and Oriente provided more than adequate services at lower costs. As you can see here┬áMexico has no shortage of bus companies, as the tourist population in Mexico is quite high, and Mexicans themselves like to travel throughout their country. The numbers seem to add up well enough to create a good economic atmosphere for bus & plane transport.

In some cases the price seems too good to be true. A ride from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum on a very comfortable bus actually cost about $7 USD. It’s about an hour and a half between these 2 cities, counting the stops. That’s pretty impressive. Of course you could also take colectivos, which are even cheaper generally but take a bit more time and are definitely less comfortable, especially if you factor in having to haul your gear with you. So, you’ll need to do a bit of research to see what’s your best option considering your budget, time, and desired comfort level, and it’s not always easy to find out what all your options are. Many of the bus line websites are not very intuitive and not all have English translations, but most do. A good resource is Ticket Bus. It’s an aggregate site that lists all the bus lines, and shows you comparison pricing and times, etc. I’d still check with the actual company you decide on before booking but you might find it useful. For small trips of 1-6 hours, the bus is likely your best option.

Airlines

For longer trips, you might be surprised to know that some flights are actually sometimes a cheaper option than the bus. Airlines like Viva Aerobus┬ácan be a great option. For example a bus trip from Puerto Escondido on the West Coast of Mexico, to DF (mexico City) cost about 1000p for the express which takes 12 hours or 700p for the budget route which takes 18 hours. However a flight would have cost approximately 1000p and taken a couple hours if you factor everything in. 300p to save 17 hours, for many is a no-brainer. So, any time you are looking to do a longer trip, look at flights too. They may end up being the better deal. And a great resource for finding flights is Google Flights. I’ve tried Sky Scanner and others, but Google Flights has always proven to be my best option, aside from the regional airlines which often aren’t listed anywhere. Keep in mind however, that not all countries in Central America have this kind of competitive pricing for flights. Mexico was by far the best, while Gautemala and Costa Rica didn’t offer the same types of rates. It makes sense economically. Mexico has a much larger population and is considerably bigger both in terms of geography and economy.

There are other considerations. For example, travelling between any country in Central America can be done quite easily using Tica Bus. Tica Bus is an international land carrier that goes from Mexico (just north of the southern border, after which you’ll have to switch to a Mexican carrier) all the way down to Panama.

Bus - plane transport central america
Broke down bus in Belize
It’s relatively inexpensive and also quite comfortable. Rides can be long and border crossings can be a bit tedious and stressful, but all in all it’s a good way to get around. Again, looking into flights is always smart, but generally Tica will be a bit more affordable if your budget takes priority over your time. All these buses have AC and many also have movies showing for most of the ride. You may have to deal with some inconveniences and privacy infringements, like for example in Mexico, our bus must have been stopped 6 times between Puerto Escondido and DF so that Mexican officials/police could come on board and film everyone on the bus. It’s disconcerting and intrusive but there’s nothing you can do about it. Most of the time they don’t even speak to you, but don’t be surprised if you are asked to show your passport and have your bags checked once in a while. And do bring very warm clothes as buses in this region are frightfully cold. I even pack my sleeping bag when I’m taking an overnighter, as the temperatures are ridiculously low. All in all however, I think you’ll find travelling by bus quite pleasant. This doesn’t apply much to Belize which has terrible bus stations, old uncomfortable school buses, and a tendency for breaking down, but Belize aside, you can expect pretty efficient travel.

Have a great journey!

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